With 85% of a building’s lifetime expense coming from its use as an asset, the demarcation between design, construction and operation translates into strategic risk.
By 2025, there may be as many as one trillion sensors installed across the built environment globally. That’s 120 sensors for every person, making buildings more responsive, conserving energy, enhancing safety and productivity, and extending the life of the building itself.
Whether plugged into the internet of things, identifying maintenance needs before they become issues or simply adjusting a room’s temperature, these sensors will redefine what buildings are capable of. Still, despite the fanfare, many built environment professionals struggle to build a case for early adoption. For many, the challenge is how to bridge the gap between expected and actual performance.
Technological solutions – for example, computers to make sense of the vast amounts of data – may help, but another variable is emerging. Several years ago, when the US government failed to achieve energy-efficiency goals in its real estate portfolio, it conducted a study to find out why. The report found that, even for cases in which the right technology was in place, not having facility managers with appropriate training and expertise presented a major barrier to achieving results.
This claim is supported by benchmarking data that, paradoxically, show four-to-10-year-old buildings being outperformed by both newer and older buildings. Why? The equipment is relatively new; however, the facilities aren’t properly maintained. Once the technology is recommissioned at around 10 years, performance improves again. Technology requires maintenance. This is particularly true for smart technology, which often operates within very narrow tolerance limits.
Achieving the full potential of this technology is about people: smart buildings require smart people to run them.
The growth of strategic facility management (FM) in recent decades can be attributed to the increasing complexity of the built environment itself. As people have come to expect more from their facilities, the interaction between structures and the assets they contain has grown more complex, requiring more knowledge and experience. In this context, FM has exploded into a $1tn industry practised by 25 million professionals around the world.
At least as exciting as developments in smart building solutions are the corresponding advances in the FM industry: specifically, a shift toward global unification of what has been a fragmented sector, and the integration of FM into larger conversations about the full built environment life-cycle.
For the first time, the FM profession has developed international standards and a shared professional vocabulary. This year has brought the publication of three International Organization for Standardization standards covering FM. Standards such as these – in conjunction with those developed by IFMA and RICS – will have a profound impact on the performance of smart building technology.
FM unification will also make integration easier. In the past, a line existed between design and construction and operation. Today, with 85% of a building’s lifetime expense coming after the design and construction phase, such a separation translates into strategic risk. More than ever, FM professionals are involved early in the process, to ensure buildings perform as intended.
In an increasingly competitive real estate market, the difference between success and failure can rest on the thinnest of margins. Smart buildings have promised a competitive advantage that doesn’t always materialise, because the technology by itself is not enough. Even the best technology requires a human touch. The emergent FM industry is poised to play the decisive role for those with the vision to see its importance and potential.
Tony Keane, President and CEO, International Facility Management Association (IFMA).
Article first published in Modus - October 2017
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